Intermittent Fasting Explored

At WorkScore, we’re not in the business of promoting diets and believe in balance and choosing natural foods as a way to live a healthy life. That said, we are in the business of bringing you the latest wellness trends, exploring what’s out there in a way that makes sense. In other words, we’re looking to add clarity, not confusion to the overwhelming and often-contradictory realm of wellness.

So with ‘intermittent fasting’ started to gain momentum, we decided to put our investigating boots on and get down and dirty in this murky world of dieting.

Now intermittent fasting fans will be quick to tell you that this way of eating is, in fact, not a diet, but rather a pattern of eating. It changes when you eat, not what you eat. And by adding routine to your eating (looking at you on-the-go eaters), the whole idea is that your body gets a chance to naturally digest and metabolise more efficiently before you begin the cycle of eating again.

"The whole idea is that your body gets a chance to naturally digest and metabolise more efficiently before you begin the cycle of eating again"

For those not familiar with the new trend, there are a number of different forms intermittent fasting can take, from restricting your ‘eating window’ to anywhere between six and twelve hours per day, to eating normally five days a week and dramatically cutting calories on two fasting days (5:2 pattern), to taking a 36-hour break from food every week.

The most popular fasting ‘trend’ doing its rounds on the internet at the moment is the 16:8 eating pattern, which refers to fasting for sixteen hours of the day and eating two square meals during the eight-hour ‘eating window,’ with no snacks in between. So you might choose, for example, to have lunch at 12 pm and dinner by 8 pm, but that is not to say that between the hours of 12 pm and 8 pm you can scoff whatever you feel – two meals, no snacks.

 The concept of fasting as a means of transforming your health for the better seems entirely at odds with the basic notion that food is necessary to simply survive. The idea, however, is that extended periods of fasting can help teach your body to use the food you are consuming more efficiently. When you’re not giving yourself those bursts of calories you get from snacking, your body can learn to burn fat as fuel. This much has been scientifically proven. Mark Mattson, senior investigator for the National Institute on Aging (part of the US National Institutes of Health) reports that when ‘you don’t eat for 10–16 hours, your body will go to its fat stores for energy, and fatty acids called ketones will be released into the bloodstream.’

"When you’re not giving yourself those bursts of calories you get from snacking, your body can learn to burn fat as fuel"

The benefits of this pattern of eating are many and range from lower blood glucose levels, reduced insulin sensitivity, reduced blood pressure and increased fat metabolism, to reduced oxidative stress and inflammation, there are even studies that suggest intermittent fasting can help you live longer.

Aside from the biological benefits, adding a routine to your eating seems like a no-brainer for those of us inclined to either emotional eat or regularly grab food on the go. Having a strict pattern forces you to be mindful of when you are eating, but also has a welcome knock-on effect of encouraging you to eat smart during your eight-hour eating window. If you’re limited to two square meals a day, there’s a higher chance you’re going to pick something nutritious, rather than a slice of banana bread on your way into the office.

There has also been a lot of chatter surrounding the link between intermittent fasting and mental clarity. In Silicon Valley, whole groups of self-optimization-obsessed biohackers fast together for productivity. The science behind this stems from the fact that digesting food takes up a lot of energy, which explains why many of us often feel cloudy at our desks after we have eaten lunch and also sheds light on those ‘food coma’ evenings after dinner. Mark Mattson has researched the link between fasting and neurons. His findings show that the fatty acids released into the bloodstream - as a result of your body using fat stores for energy - work to protect memory and learning functionality, as well as slow disease processes in the brain.

"digesting food takes up a lot of energy, which explains why many of us often feel cloudy at our desks after we have eaten lunch"

Since the idea of intermittent fasting is to give your gut a better chance to repair and regenerate itself, even going for just twelve hours without food will reap many of the benefits of IF. A twelve hour overnight fast is something many of us notorious breakfast skippers are probably already doing unintentionally, but if that’s not the case, it’s a great way to ease into this new diet, sorry pattern!

If you are keen to give the 16:8 pattern a go, we’ve got some basic tips to consider before you take the leap:

  • Just because you’re fasting for sixteen hours doesn’t mean you can load up on junk food for the two meals during your eating window. This completely defeats the point of a) being more mindful about food and b) restricting your calories in order to feel the benefits of a fat-burning body.

  • Staying hydrated is key, especially during the fasting period. You may experience some headaches and feelings of cloudiness during the first few days of trying IF, so drinking plenty of fluids (even if that means coffee) is going to be vital to keeping your mind sharp.

  • Consider easing yourself in for three days before you live by the strict pattern.

  • It’s not the most sociable diet, so if you plan on eating out with friends, make sure you nab an early booking and finish eating by 8pm. Also – no popcorn at the cinema, no late-night snacking after an evening of drinking!

  • If it doesn’t work for you, if you feel overtired, bloated, unfocused or simply don’t enjoy it, give it up! After all, we are trying to find something that works for us, something that we enjoy and feel comfortable with. We’re not training for the Olympics, so if a strict eating regime isn’t your jam, move it along.